Bite, Bite, Gulp: That's a Moray

How the moray eel catches its prey

12-01-2008 // Hannah Schardt

LIKE MOST BONY FISH, moray eels have two sets of jaws: oral and pharyngeal, a smaller, secondary set of jaws located in their throats. But the tropical eel’s pharyngeal jaws are "extraordinarily robust," says University of California--Davis researcher Rita Mehta. Armed with an X-ray and a high-speed digital camera, Mehta set out to learn how these long, skinny fish are able to swallow large prey whole. The answer is right out of science fiction. Unlike the nearly immobile jaws in other fish, the morays’ pharyngeal jaws have muscular attachments that allow the jaws to thrust forward, snag the food and retract, keeping the prey gripped tightly at all times. The fearsome double bite makes sense for an animal that, unlike shorter fish, is not built for suction, says Mehta--Hannah Schardt

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